Arapahoe Basin: The Fourth of July, Colorado style

The Fourth of July conjures up scenes in the minds of most Americans of family picnics under sunny skies or watching fireworks displays on a summer night. But for me, and about 2,500 of my fellow Coloradans, July 4, 1995 meant only one thing: Snow.

This year, Colorado was blessed with an unusually high amount of spring snow that extended ski season beyond normal. The weekend that Vail closed in late April, skiers mourned as they were forced to abandon the best snow all year. The big resorts closed one by one, but the snow kept falling in the high country through May and June. Finally, when all other ski mountains closed, only one remained; Arapahoe Basin, with a 90 inch base in June.

[Laurel shredding A-Basin.] As a newcomer to the state, I could think of nothing more truly Coloradan than snowboarding on the Fourth of July. Throughout the spring I prayed long and hard to the snow gods to make this dream come true. Alas, my meditations proved worthy. On July 4, A-Basin was open for business.

I successfully talked five friends into sharing the adventure. We woke up early and excited the morning of the Fourth, looking forward to a sunny summer day of skiing and boarding in shorts, T-shirts and swimsuits. The six of us packed picnic lunches and plenty of beer for our anticipated parking lot party. Truthfully, after an unusually long winter, we planned on doing as much sun worshipping as skiing.

The group gathered at my house in Denver about 7 a.m., and we headed west on I-70. The morning sun followed behind. More than anything, I looked forward to initiating myself as a true “ski (or snowboard) bunny” by gliding down the mountain clad only in my string bikini. Only then, I thought, would I be a true Coloradan.

As I applied my 24 SPF sun block, the “ugly” truth came over the airwaves. “Seven new inches at A-Basin last night,” reported the d.j. This was the good news. “White-out conditions expected today.” Instantly I felt spirits sink, but I remained determined. Eyeing around the car, I stealthily staked claim to any warm clothing that was in my reach, which wasn’t much. Soon the others took notice and the silence exploded in an every-person-for-themselves free-for-all in pursuit of Gortex and down.

Climbing Loveland Pass was scary. The snow came down relentlessly and road conditions were poor. We crept along at about 20 mph because of limited visibility and slick, icy roads. It could have been January, but it wasn’t. It was the Fourth of July. I could feel my friends’ spirits sink as visions of parking lot partying were washed away with the snow.

As we approached A-Basin, we realized that the idea of skiing that day was not a unique one. The lower parking lot was completely full and the upper one was filling up quickly. Lines for ski rentals and lift tickets were winding, slow-moving serpentines made up of hundreds of people. Not yet ready to brave the lines, my friends and I started on the beer and hoped that the sun would break through. But, the snow kept coming.

Around 10 a.m., I accepted the fact that the lines were only getting longer, so I trudged up to take my place in the lift ticket line. I offered to get everyone else’s ticket, too, as they would not break away from the beer cooler. After about 15 minutes in line, my friend Shannon delivered the heavy blow: Four of the six opted to drive to Dillon and spend the day beer-bowling. Beer-bowling? On the most incredible, unbelievable Fourth of July A-Basin had ever seen? At that moment I was forced to accept the fact that long-time Coloradans did not think snow on the Fourth of July was such a cool thing. I reluctantly agreed to release my four lame friends, but only on the condition that they leave behind all their warm clothing.

Only two remained, myself and my fearless companion, Melissa. After another 30 minutes in the ticket line, we armed ourselves with cold beer and headed for the lift line. For the next four hours, we stood happily in the longest lift lines of the season, and skied with passion through the freshly fallen powder, avoiding the surprisingly few rocks and bare spots with ease.

The sun only pierced through the clouds for about two minutes that day, and for those two minutes ski jackets, hats, goggles, and even pants and shirts were sent flying in celebration of summer skiing.

About 3 p.m., the wickedest blizzard of the day sent us back down to the bottom of the mountain, but I didn’t care. I snowboarded on the Fourth of July, and no one can ever take that away from me. It was a good day to ski. Exhausted, cold and happy, Melissa and I turned away from A-Basin and joined the others at the bowling alley.

I look forward to skiing this Labor Day at A-Basin.
Laurel Chesky